A Made-to-order State

The cease-fire in the Gaza Strip offers a good opportunity to reexamine the central idea behind the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process.

The cease-fire in the Gaza Strip offers a good opportunity to reexamine the central idea behind the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process - an idea whose title could be "a made-to-order state" or "a designer state."

From Oslo to Annapolis, via the interim agreements and the road map, with encouragement from the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan and the Geneva Initiative, all the agreements, understandings and proposals focused on drafting a detailed plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories, with a democratic constitution and a detailed list of its authorities and responsibilities. If there was a global essay contest in constitutional law, these documents would stand a good chance of taking first place.

There is only one problem: All these pieces of paper had trouble coping with reality. The designers' state never arose, and the jurists' wonderful creation drowned in the muck of mutual recriminations about violated agreements, Palestinian terror and Israeli settlement expansion. The Palestinian Authority was established, and functioned more or less in line with the plan for a few years, but then the agreements collapsed under the weight of circumstance. In 2002, Israel reoccupied the major West Bank cities and took back security responsibility for these areas. In 2006, following Hamas' electoral victory, constitutional arrangements were junked as well.

The interim conclusion is that building a state "from the top down" is doomed to failure. Conflicting interests and the balance of power will always overcome good intentions and elegant formulations. No agreement can cope with developments such as dozens of suicide bombings or Hamas' rise to power. The effort to formulate all the details of a new state gives employment to diplomats and jurists, but increases the disappointment when the detailed agreements are scattered to the winds. It would be better to make fewer detailed plans and focus more on implementation.

When the carefully designed model collapsed in the West Bank, an alternative model developed in Gaza - one of building a state "from the bottom up," without negotiations and without an agreement. The cease-fire, which ensures Hamas' continued rule in Gaza, creates a sort of Palestinian independence there, albeit under harsh conditions of physical destruction, economic blockade and bitter hostility on the part of its neighbors. Hamas never entered the world championships in constitutional law, but it provides services to its citizens, maintains order and runs an effective security force. This is not the elegant, well-ordered state of the designers' vision, but it is worth getting used to the fact that this is what a small, independent Palestine looks like.

"Hamastan" is not the first state in the region to arise without an agreement, following a unilateral withdrawal by the previous ruling power. It was preceded by Israel, which was established after the British announced their abandonment of the Mandate for Palestine/Land of Israel. Britain never signed an agreement with the Zionist movement, nor did it transfer power in an orderly fashion. The high commissioner and his staff simply packed their bags and left. In his parting speech to his subjects, commissioner Alan Cunningham expressed hope for peace between Jews and Arabs, just like Ariel Sharon after the disengagement from Gaza.

In his book "Three Days," Ze'ev Sharef, Israel's first cabinet secretary, described how the State of Israel was established out of the chaos left by the end of the Mandate. On orders from David Ben-Gurion, a task force of bureaucrats headed by Sharef gave the political leadership a document titled "Governmental Administration in the Hebrew State," which detailed the structure of the government ministries and the division of power among them. This document - and not the constitution, which was never approved - serves to this day as the basis for Israel's system of government.

Israel, like the Gazan state of our day, has suffered since its inception from economic boycotts and wars with its neighbors. But unlike Hamas, Israel relied on a UN resolution and took care to obtain recognition from the superpowers. This was the basis for its establishment, and solidified its international status despite its hostile environment.

Hamas, too, could obtain international recognition, if it would agree to recognize Israel and previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, in line with the Quartet's demands, which are anchored in a UN Security Council resolution. But for now, Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh prefer to be the neighborhood bullies who conduct their foreign policy via rockets rather than diplomacy. Maybe the war just finished will make them understand that the way to consolidate the independence they have achieved in Gaza is through a diplomatic move.